Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. Those of you who are not aware the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit it is via membership or an invite to the tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation with all sort of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers. Over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, I shall be chatting with my guest about their work in progress, or latest book release.
Today, I’m chatting with Cathie about her writing and books. Welcome.
Thank you so much for having me here, Paula. I’m delighted to join you for a chat about writing and historical research. You have to stop me from rambling on when it gets too much, though. I tend to get carried away…
That’s okay, I’m quite a chatterbox when it comes to talking about books and writing. So when you first begun your writing journey what drew you to your chosen genre?
Ever since I started reading as a child, I’ve imagined myself in the heroine’s place. In my teens, I discovered historical fiction, and I began to love the idea of adventures in a historical setting. And when you add a dash of romance and a degree of suspense, I’m yours for life. That’s why there was no question about which genre to write in when I started.
Tell us a little about latest writing project. Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?
My current work in progress, The Alchemist’s Daughter, is the second in a new series of loosely interlinked stories set during the (in)famous Affair of the Poisons that rocked the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King. The first novel in this series, The Shadows of Versailles, is released on 20th November 2020.
It’s a later period for me, as I normally prefer a medieval setting, but it’s one of my favourite historical events. Hundreds of men and women across Paris and Versailles were involved in it, with many going just a few steps further than mere fortune-telling: by selling poisons to people who wanted to rid themselves of despised family members or competitors. To the same effect, black masses were celebrated, during which babies, often stolen, were sacrificed. The king’s long-term mistress, Madame de Montespan, and several other high-profile courtiers were accused to be involved. So in the end, Louis hushed it all up, with many being executed or locked up for life by a lettre de cachet signed by the king.
As you can see, this theme will keep me pretty occupied for a good while.
Do you write a synopsis first or write the first chapter?
I note down a very rough outline of the plot, but I’m a pantser, so I add to my plot as I go. Characters seem to have their own minds, so they sometimes lead me away from the chosen direction. The ending of The Shadows of Versailles turned out quite different from what I’d originally envisaged. I also love adding events as I come across in my research. Often, the lesser-known events make for great sub-plots.
Choosing only five of your favourite authors, and can you list them in order 1 begin the top of your list and say how have they influenced your writing?
Victoria Holt – My earliest memory of reading historical romantic suspense. I loved her stories, the atmosphere she created. The setting was always dramatic, too.
Sharon Penman – Brilliant historical fiction. Detailed and well-researched, I read up so much on English and Welsh history after I first read her novels
Barbara Erskine – Gripping historical mystery romance, with a strong dose of the paranormal, time-travel or dual-timeline. The Kingdom of Shadows is still eon of my favourite books, which instilled in me an enduring love for Scottish medieval history.
Daphne du Maurier – Jamaica Inn is one of my all-time favourite novels. With it began my love for the sea, and for historical adventures with a touch of romance.
M.M. Kaye – She wrote her novels during the latter years of the Empire, and its challenges are often reflected in the behaviour of her characters. They didn’t always conform to the rules.
Were any of your characters inspired by real people?
Bellon in my dual-timeline novel, Love Lost in Time, is based on a real character. He was the first count of Carcassonne, of Visigoth origins. Not much else is known about him, nor was his wife’s name ever mentioned. So I called her Nanthild (a real historical name), and made her a Frankish lady, which explained the strong bond between Bellon and the Franks under Charlemagne.
I often include real people, to give my novels a stronger sense of place and time, though my main characters tend to be entirely fictional. But at times I base them on real people, like in my current work in progress, The Alchemist’s Daughter, about a young woman, the daughter of an apothecary and alchemist. There were several women during the Affair of the Poisons who were dabbling not only in herbs and remedies, but also in poisons.
What did you learn when writing your book? In writing it, how much research did you do?
I read a lot about the historical background and real events that took place over the periods my novels are set in. I love research, especially when I uncover little-known events as part of the wider setting. But I focus less on clothing and everyday items, which I refer to in passing, but more on places – castles and palaces – and the actual events.
I love getting lost in research…
Is there anything about you your readers might be surprised to find out?
Well, perhaps. I’m originally from Germany, but lived in the UK for 20 years, 16 of which in Scotland. So I consider myself an honorary Scot. I’ve even got an accent. I’m also an honorary Welshie, according to the parents of our two (Welsh) godchildren.
I’m a certified translator for German and English, though I’ve never worked in that sector. Instead, I worked at a college and several universities for years. I loved working with students, helping them to settle in. It was great fun.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Yes, I’m writing under a pseudonym. I chose to mainly because my real surname is more widely associated with crime fiction, and both my first and surname are quite long.
‘Cathie’ is my shortened middle name, Katharina, and ‘Dunn’ was the married name of my late mother-in-law.
How do you select the names of your characters? And do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?
I tend to consult historical records before diving in. Often, you find names (mostly for male characters) in chronicles, which I find very useful. I also look at their social standing.
No, I don’t know everything about them early on. For example, Fleur in The Shadows of Versailles surprised me. That’s why I had to change the ending from my original plan. I usually have a vague idea of their character, but their learning curve is often steep, so they change during the course of the novel.
What was your hardest scene to write?
There are two, when I killed off two characters I grew very close to, in different stories. I’m not giving away who they are, or which novels they’re featured in, but needless to say, I cried a few tears. It was tough saying goodbye to characters who had accompanied me for so long during the writing process. Tough, but necessary. They tell their stories, and I merely follow their lead…
Thank you for the invite, Paula, and for the drink. Its been great fun and distraction from my edits but now I’d better be on my way. I have a book to write!
Thank you for join me today, Cathie. Just let Brutus know and he’ll run you home.
If you want to find out more about Clubhouse Member’s Books don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops.